Media scrum grows outside Kate's London hospital

It could be weeks before Prince William's wife Catherine gives birth to Britain's future monarch -- but the world's media, taking no chances, are already firmly camped outside her London hospital.

A forest of ladders and tripods has sprung up outside the private Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, where several broadcasters -- desperate not to miss that crucial shot of a royal arrival -- have begun a 24-hour vigil.

"We've had a few passers-by making incredulous comments," admitted one cameraman for the US network NBC, sprawled in a camping chair in the sunshine.

"Our network's been here since Monday last week, although it's only the last few days that we've been manning it 24 hours."

The air will ring with the frantic clicking of cameras when Kate is finally admitted to the hospital -- but with the baby not officially due until mid-July, a long wait could be ahead.

Until then, the cameramen can only bask in the sunshine with a book or a magazine -- hoping, as long as the good weather continues, for a late arrival.

At one end of the dense thicket of ladders, a cameraman could be seen pottering about in a sun-hat crafted from a sheet of newspaper.

The birth will be a global news sensation -- especially given the popularity of William and Kate, whose glittering wedding in 2011 was watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide.

The pavement outside the hospital is covered with tape marking out the patches of territory claimed by rival outlets, but the dozens of ladders will remain mostly unmanned until Kate goes into labour.

Major news organisations have claimed 15 or more positions each outside the hospital, determined not to miss the snap of the year.

"You can't just have a photo from one angle -- one of them could get blocked," explained another NBC cameraman, who gave his name as Tony. "You've got to have multiple angles."

The best spots, with prime views directly opposite the entrance to the Lindo Wing, are reserved by Britain's biggest news broadcasters -- the BBC, ITN and Sky News.

Prince Charles and his then-wife princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, posed on the same spot with the newborn William in 1981.

A couple of policewomen could be seen strolling near the hospital entrance on Friday, but the row of parking spaces outside the Lindo Wing -- reserved by the palace until the end of July -- remained very empty.

The coffee shop over the road, however, has been doing a roaring trade -- and others are starting to spot the business opportunity.

Kaya Mar, a satirical artist, turned up at the hospital with several eye-catching canvases -- including one portraying Kate as a modern-day Virgin Mary, with a royal babe in her arms.

"People worship this young girl," explained the mustachioed artist, who said he was "partly Spanish, partly Turkish -- but really, satirists don't have a nationality".

"It's amazing," he added. "People haven't changed since the Stone Age. No matter how much we evolve, people always want to worship someone."

The 57-year-old said he had painted Kate with a hole in her sock to represent the age of austerity into which her first child will be born.

"I think people are looking at the royal baby as a kind of saviour in these times," he told AFP.